S.Y. Agnon Reads the Song of Songs?

Nitza Davidovitch


This paper describes S.Y. Agnon’s ironic, dual, modern attitude to the Song of Songs, as a traditionalist and as one who identifies himself with the doctor’s statements: “We are enlightened individuals, modern people, we seek freedom for ourselves and for all humanity, and in point of fact we are worse than the most die-hard reactionaries.” Agnon’s attitude to the world of love is the attitude of a young Jewish artist of the late 19th century who lives in a world of revolutionary changes that also affect the Jewish world. Agnon’s work stands as a tombstone of the gradually unraveling Jewish shtetl and its institutions and values, specifically, the declining status of love and its significance for the values of family, society, and the Jewish nation. The young Jewish man experiences the changing seasons of the late 19th century and early 20th century, reflected in the vacillation between the traditional conception of love by the traditional world, and the modern perception that views love as an element in individual self-realization. “They say that love exists in the world” – but what is love in Agnon’s world? What are the sources of the gap that many of Agnon’s protagonists experience – the gap between yearning, dreams, and heart’s desires, and the potential for their realization in practice?


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